Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bizarre holiday complaints made by British tourists


Strange ... one traveller complained about not being told mosquitos could bite / Frank Violi
THE strangest holiday complaints ever made by British tourists have been revealed, with hilarious results.

Thomas Cook and the Association of British Travel Agents compiled a list of the bizarre complaints, including one where a holidaymaker said he felt inadequate after seeing an aroused elephant, which in turn ruined his honeymoon.

It seems many British travellers aren’t used to beaches, with a tourist complaining that “the beach was too sandy” and another upset when they discovered fish swimming in the sea.

"No-one told us there would be fish in the sea. The children were startled," the tourist said.

It seems some travellers also have a lot to learn about nature.

"I was bitten by a mosquito – no-one said they could bite," a holidaymaker complained.

In another complaint a British guest at a Novotel hotel in Australia said his soup was too thick and strong, not realising he had been supping from the gravy boat.

In an even stranger twist, one traveller blamed a hotel for her pregnancy.

"My fiancé and I booked a twin-bedded room but we were placed in a double-bedded room. We now hold you responsible for the fact that I find myself pregnant,” the guest said.

“This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked."

Other complaints included “there are too many Spanish people in Spain” and “too much curry served in restaurants in India”.

Original here

15 Astonishing World War 2 Photos That Bomb Your Senses

As the saying goes “A picture is worth a thousand words” – I think I’d have to disagree. I think it tells you more than that. Maybe I am too much of a WW2 fanatic, but every time I look at those images, my mind starts to analyze every tiny detail in the picture.

Enjoy the pictures! They come with the official NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) descriptions. There are 15 in total. (Click pictures to zoom in.)

#1 - Over the Pyramids, Egypt

An Air Transport Command plane flies over the pyramids in Egypt.Loaded with urgent war supplies and materials, this plane is one of a fleet flying shipments from the U.S. across the Atlantic and the continent of Africa to strategic battle zones. 1943. Exact Date Shot Unknown. (Army)

#2 Arriving in France on D-Day

Landing on the coast of France under heavy Nazi machine gun fire are these American soldiers, shown just as they left the ramp of a Coast Guard landing boat, June 6, 1944. CPhoM. Robert F. Sargent. (Coast Guard). The effect between clouds and dunes is extremely nice.

#3 Shell After Shell

American howitzers shell German forces retreating near Carentan, France. July 11, 1944. Franklin. (Army)

#4 Paratroopers Over Holland

Parachutes open overhead as waves of paratroops land in Holland during operations by the 1st Allied Airborne Army. September 1944. Exact Date Shot Unknown (Army)

#5 Noisy Mortar

“Getting across the Rhine wasn’t all there was to it. There was the little matter of establishing a beachhead. We threw our mortars at them and everything else we had untill they finally gave away.” 1945. Army. Exact Date Shot Unknown (OWI)

#6 Stay Low!

“I drew an assault boat to cross in - just my luck. We all tried to crawl under each other because the lead was flying around like hail.” Crossing the Rhine under enemy fire at St. Goar, March 1945. Army. Exact Date Shot Unknown (OWI)

#7 Air Bombing

“The first big raid by the 8th Air Force was on a Focke Wulf plant at Marienburg. Coming back, the Germans were up in full force and we lost at least 80 ships - 800 men, many of them pals.” 1943. Army Air Forces. Exact Date Shot Unknown (OWI)

#8 Running Into Uncertainty

Soldiers of the 55th Armored Infantry Battalion and tank of the 22nd Tank Battalion, move through smoke filled street. Wernberg, Germany. April 22, 1945. Pvt. Joseph Scrippens. (Army)

#9 Spotting

Observer who spotted a machine gun nest finds its location on a map so they can send the information to artillery or mortars to wipe out the position. Iwo Jima, February 1945. Dreyfuss. Exact Date Shot Unknown (Marine Corps)

#10 Raising the Flag

Flag raising on Iwo Jima. February 23, 1945. Joe Rosenthal, Associated Press. (Navy) From the crest of Mount Suribachi, the Stars and Stripes wave in triumph over Iwo Jima after U.S. Marines had fought their way inch by inch up its steep lava-encrusted slopes. Ca. February 1945.

#11 Rockets

Corsair fighter looses its load of rocket projectiles on a run against a Japanese stronghold on Okinawa. In the lower background is the smoke of battle as Marine units move in to follow up with a Sunday punch. Ca. June 1945. Lt. David D. Duncan. Exact Date Shot Unknown (Marine Corps)

#12 Dashing For His Life

A Marine dashes through Japanese machine gun fire while crossing a draw, called Death Valley by the men fighting there. Marines sustained more than 125 casualties in eight hours crossing this valley. Okinawa, May 10, 1945. Pvt. Bob Bailey. (Marine Corps)

#13 Anti-aircraft Fire

Japanese night raiders are greeted with a lacework of anti-aircraft fire by the Marine defenders of Yontan airfield, on Okinawa. In the foreground are Marine Corsair fighter planes of the “Hell’s Belles’ squadron. 1945. T.Sgt. Chorlest. Exact Date Shot Unknown (Marine Corps)

#14 Air Raid

USS ESSEX based TBMs and SB2Cs dropping bombs on Hokadate, Japan. July 1945. Exact Date Shot Unknown (Navy)

#15 Hundreds of Shells

Task Force 58 raid on Japan. 40mm guns firing aboard USS HORNET on 16 February 1945, as the carrier’s planes were raiding Tokyo. Note expended shells and ready-service ammunition at right. February 1945. Lt. Comdr. Charles Kerlee. (Navy) - Note the shells on ground.

Original here

America’s Outback: Southern Utah

Kevin Moloney for The New York Times

Two hikers squeeze through Peek-a-Boo Canyon in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.


IF the name Dry Fork Coyote Gulch doesn’t give fair warning that this is not your average hike, then the haunting drive to the trailhead will remove all doubt. The sandy Hole-in-the-Rock Road is one of the few routes that even attempt to enter the biblical expanse of desert in southern Utah called the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and when I made a pilgrimage there last summer, I didn’t pass a single car, let alone a sign of human habitation.

But my total isolation didn’t really strike home until I stepped from my 4x4 onto the edge of a mesa above Coyote Gulch, a ravine whose golden sandstone hides three gorgeous, narrow slot canyons. The lonely trailhead offered none of the familiar national park comforts like ranger huts or wooden welcome signs — certainly no dubious snack vendors. There was nothing but expanses of rock stretching toward the horizon, which at 10 a.m. were already glowing like embers under the intense Utah sun. Only a few stone cairns far below indicated that there was any hiking trail at all.

I gamely reminded myself that this was precisely what I’d been looking for — a landscape unchanged since 1872 — and set off into the piercing light.

I’d gone to southern Utah on the trail of an improbable outdoor adventurer — Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh, who at the ripe age of 18 joined the last great voyage of exploration in the Old West. This Gilded Age Hardy Boy made it through the raw desert in May and June 1872 with a group of amateur explorers who were hardly more qualified than himself. In his later years, Dellenbaugh traveled the world as an artist and writer, and helped to found, in 1904, the esteemed Explorers Club, now on 70th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

But I was fascinated by his teenage adventure, largely forgotten today, when he and his friends found the first route through southern Utah’s maze of canyons, discovering the last unknown river in the continental United States, the Escalante, and the last mountain range, the Henrys. They were the first to peer into that phantasmagoric expanse of Bryce Canyon and the first to cross what is now Capitol Reef National Park.

At one particularly tricky canyon crossroad, they tried to convince a Ute Indian to act as a guide, “for the labyrinth ahead was a puzzle,” Dellenbaugh later recalled. After the man wandered off, the group pressed on anyway, trusting to their spirit and wits.

This corner of the southern Utah has since been immortalized by the painter Maynard Dixon, the novelist Zane Grey, the photographer Ansel Adams and countless Hollywood westerns. And yet, it still qualifies as the best-kept secret in the West. While millions of travelers are drawn every year to Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, Grand Staircase-Escalante and its surrounding area offer a seemingly endless choice of natural wonders that lie blissfully forgotten and empty. It’s America’s Outback.

SHORTLY after starting the Coyote Gulch hike, I had to wonder if I might not disappear into the desert void. Back in the town of Escalante, some rangers had given me a printout of directions to the three slot canyons.

“These are unmarked routes,” it screamed in bold print. “Hikers must pay attention to landmarks so they can find their way out.”

I had lost sight of the first stone cairns almost immediately, as I stumbled down to the dry river wash at the bottom of the ravine. (“Water is scarce,” the printout helpfully noted.) After a few false leads, I made it to Peek-a-Boo Canyon, whose hard-to-spot entrance was surrounded by what looked like a shallow pool: I took a step in and sank straight up to my thighs in thick mud. As the sun continued to climb in the sky, I wished for my own Ute guide — or at least a GPS tracking system.

Hugging the canyon wall for shade, I pressed on heroically and found Spooky Canyon, named for its otherworldly atmosphere. It was only an 18-inch-wide crack in the rock, but to me it yawned like the gateway to Shangri-La.

As I squeezed inside, the air was immediately cool and fragrant. The sky appeared to be an electric blue sliver far above, and the reflected light made the golden sandstone seem to glow from within. I remained utterly still, in a lizardlike state, knowing that I couldn’t hide in there forever.

Finally, I drank the last of my water and staggered across the rock like a sun-struck character out of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” I was parched, scratched, encrusted with mud — but triumphant. Out there in Coyote Gulch, I had a sense, however distant, of what Dellenbaugh and his companions had been up against back in 1872.

Back home in Manhattan, I had often walked past the Gothic facade of the Explorers Club and thought with more than a twinge of envy of the halcyon days of travel. The club’s founders had grown up after the Civil War, when you could hop on a train from Grand Central and plunge into the West like a character from a dime novel. They were a tough bunch who set off with little more than their hobnailed boots and a month’s supply of bread and bacon.

Frederick Dellenbaugh, fresh from high school in Buffalo in 1871, heard that John Wesley Powell was looking for men to join his second expedition down the Colorado River. Powell had become a celebrity for conquering the Grand Canyon in 1869; this time, the white-water trip would be combined with the mapping of the Colorado plateau. Hundreds volunteered, but Powell liked to pick his crews from friends and relatives, and Dellenbaugh, who was connected on Powell’s brother-in-law’s side, became the expedition’s artist.

The adventure lasted nearly 18 months and involved plenty of near-death encounters on the river. But its most striking achievement came in May 1872, when Powell sent his second in command, Almon Thompson — a self-taught surveyor nicknamed the Prof — on a monthlong horseback trek through the unknown deserts of southern Utah. Dellenbaugh went along, and 36 years later, in 1908, he published his classic account of the Thompson expedition, “A Canyon Voyage,” which became an American bestseller.

I’d had this book in my library for years and had regularly tried to connect the stories on a map. Finally, I decided to trace some of the grand adventure myself.

My journey began in Kanab, a tidy little Mormon outpost of mowed lawns and municipal buildings framed by glowing red bluffs. Powell set up his winter base there, in wood-floored canvas tents not far from a fort. Kanab in 1872 was no Deadwood: “Not a grog-shop, or gambling saloon, or dance-hall was to be seen,” Dellenbaugh wrote. Liquor was in such short supply that one of the photographers actually made cocktails from his photographic alcohol.

Life has loosened up slightly in Kanab today. You can buy alcohol, from the State Liquor Store, including the Utah brew Polygamy Porter (“Why Have Just One?”). After dark, I found a brand new bistro filled with stray Europeans enjoying quinoa salads and sauvignon blanc.

In the heyday of the western movie, Kanab became an unlikely boomtown as Utah’s Little Hollywood, a film location for dozens of famous movies. Photographs of forgotten black-and-white stars in Stetsons line the main street in a Western Walk of Fame, and you can find a whole theme park of cinematic relics like Clint Eastwood’s cabin in “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” (For true nostalgia buffs, the remains of the “Gunsmoke” set are quietly decaying on private land a few miles out of town, visible from the road).

The Parry Lodge, a string of retro cabins where most of the stars holed up — including Charlton Heston while filming “Planet of the Apes” — presents scratchy reel movies every summer’s night in an old barn. The real-life adventurers, Powell and his men, seem overshadowed by these celluloid demigods. I had difficulty even locating Powell’s modest stone monument, marking the site of his winter camp. It’s parked on a side street outside an elementary school. An ideal starting point, I thought, for finding the history behind the Western myth.

It was late in May when the half-dozen riders on the Thompson expedition broke away from Powell’s main group in Kanab, leading a train of pack mules and a wagon. They descended “gullies and gulches barren and dry,” as Dellenbaugh wrote in “A Canyon Voyage,” past the grave of a Mormon boy whose bones had been scattered by wolves. “The broken country was a bewildering sight,” Dellenbaugh found at one point, “especially as the night enveloped it, deepening the mystery of its gorges and cliffs.”

I set off on the same spectacular route, now Route 89, entering a terrain that seems to obey no existing rules of geology. North of Kanab, the horizon expands to reveal a series of plateaus, bone-white to chocolate, gray, coral pink and Pompeian red. The combination creates the illusion that the earth is rising in titanic steps — hence the name, Grand Staircase.

But despite the grandeur, it required a touch of effort at first to recapture the Gilded Age ambience. I pulled in for the night at Bryce Canyon National Park, where hundreds of stone fingers, called hoodoos, rise out of the depths. Dellenbaugh had gaped at their eerie shapes from a lonely camp on the southern rim of Bryce Canyon, but today, it’s the only place on his 1872 route where tour buses are in evidence.

To avoid the crush, I rose at 4.30 a.m. in the log Bryce Canyon Lodge (quite coincidentally, in the Powell Room) and stumbled downstairs in the dark. The elderly security guard apologized that there was no coffee.

“But you could go out and see the meteor storm,” he said. “I been watching it all night.”

Sure enough, lights were trailing across the desert sky as I drove to the canyon amphitheater. Than, as the sky paled, I followed the Navajo Trail into a silent forest of hoodoos, blissfully alone. I felt as if I was wandering through an abandoned Anasazi city, creeping under natural portals and along tight stone alleys — until I was snapped from my reverie by the sound of cracking twigs behind me, still unexplained. I envisioned a headline: “Foolhardy Traveler Devoured by Mountain Lions.”

Driving east from Bryce Canyon, it was far easier to envision Dellenbaugh and company traipsing through the “tangled sandstone labyrinth,” their horses picking their way carefully down steep, slippery switchbacks. Route 12, one of the most dramatic roads in the United States, is carved through the enormous Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which covers 1.9 million acres, an area slightly larger than Delaware.

Driving it, the year 1872 felt closer by the mile. The crowds evaporated. Towns looked abandoned, the doors of sun-bleached frontier houses flapping in the wind. Even gas stations became rare.

Out there, you get your travel info where you can. In the ghostly hamlet of Escalante, where Dellenbaugh’s party once also camped, a ranger gave me a 10-day permit to pitch my tent pretty well anywhere I wanted within those 1.9 million acres.

Even more inspiring was the town’s information office: an 1880 Mormon pioneer cabin, staffed by a 70-something retired wrangler, Arnold Alvey (“Horse Breeding and Training” read his card), and his wife, Dion. After they heartily denounced President Bill Clinton for handing such a vast area of land to federal control in 1996 (I haven’t been back to see how they feel about the likely wilderness-preservation policies of the Obama administration), Mr. Arnold recommended that I make haste to camp at a little place called Calf Creek.

“It’s not the end of the world,” he said, “but you can see it from there.”

One of the charming things about “A Canyon Journey” is how Dellenbaugh revels in this desert’s unexpected slivers of paradise, rare gullies that contain water and shade. (Of one such leafy oasis, he wrote, “In gratitude we called the stream Pleasant Creek without an attempt at originality.”) Calf Creek must have been one of them.

Like a sun-struck armadillo, I crawled in my dust-encrusted Suzuki into that cool crevice. Shaded tent sites were laid out along a crystalline stream where trout darted over smooth pebbles; the air itself smelled of cool stone.

The next morning, I set out in search of a waterfall said to be upriver. I followed the creek for three miles, passing ocher pictographs painted by the Fremont Indians and the remains of their stone granaries; this lush green refuge had teemed with people around the time of the First Crusade.

At last, I found myself at the base of a 126-foot-high cascade with a circular pool surrounded by ferns and graced by a pristine gold-sand beach — paradise itself.

Stripping down, I threw myself in the water, registered its near-freezing temperature and leaped straight back out. From then on, I simply lounged in the sun, gently sprayed by waterfall mist. I tried to imagine all those summer travelers jostling through Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, only a Western-size stone’s throw away. Right now, I was fine with my own private park.

East of Calf Creek, the landscape becomes even more strange and unearthly. The Creator was having fun out there. Canyons yawn. Arches sprout from nowhere, not to mention spires, buttes, towers and pinnacles. The earth erupts and convulses. There are raw desert lookouts where not one single man-made light distracts from the stars.

No wonder local T-shirts read “Utah Rocks!”

At this stage of his journey, Dellenbaugh seems to have been too concerned about being lost to recall the scenery with lyrical flourishes. The Thompson expedition had to navigate a way through the 100-mile-long Waterpocket Fold, a bewildering formation where the planet’s crust is ripped open and rears from the desert like the spine of an enraged stegosaurus. Today, this is Capitol Reef National Park; its regal name comes from one of the rounder protrusions, which resembles the dome of the United States Capitol.

Even more daunting in 1872 were the Unknown Mountains — now known as the Henrys — which resemble enormous shark fins.

At last, the dust-caked explorers found a lookout above the Colorado River. “The view from our camp was extensive and magnificent,” Dellenbaugh wrote, “the whole Dirty Devil region lying open, like a book, below us.”

And Dellenbaugh recalled, self-deprecatingly, “We had at last traversed from the unknown to the unknown, and felt well satisfied with our success.” In fact, several professionally trained surveyors had tried to find a route there and failed.

As for me, I arrived at the side of a road and realized I was at the same 1,000-foot precipice. It’s still a breathtaking view, even though the mighty Colorado River was tamed by the Glen Canyon Dam in 1966, and the river’s water level has risen to fill the canyon and become the turquoise Lake Powell.

From there, Dellenbaugh and his party rejoined Powell, boating in the Grand Canyon rapids and then returning to Kanab for a second winter to draw the survey map. In early 1873, Dellenbaugh sealed this precious document into a long metal tube and rode with it through blizzards to Salt Lake City, where it was rushed by rail to Washington. Later in his life, as an accomplished artist, Dellenbaugh would return to the Southwest regularly to paint.

I HAD one last step to make in my own journey. When I got back to New York, I hopped the subway to the Upper East Side to the Explorers Club. In the 1920s, it became Dellenbaugh’s home away from home, and I wondered if it still held any of his artifacts.

Entering those slightly forbidding stone ramparts, I made my way past the stuffed polar bear on the second floor to the club’s library. The archivist, Dorthea Sartain, unearthed for me a few of Dellenbaugh’s handwritten letters, along with some faded photographic portraits of him as a wizened, balding man with a handlebar moustache, wearing a neat tweed suit.

Ever the volunteer, Dellenbaugh designed the Explorers Club flag, which is still in use: red and blue separated by a white diagonal and the motif based on a compass. His hand-stitched prototype was framed on one wall. Copies have been taken up Mount Everest, into the Amazon and Congo. A pocket version was carried on the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Was there anything else of Dellenbaugh’s, I wondered?

“Well, the catalog says we have one of his paintings,” Ms. Sartain said hesitantly. “If I can find it.”

We went into the club’s storeroom. It was an oversize cupboard crowded with dusty relics, including a stuffed armadillo and a bust of Admiral Peary’s Eskimo guide. Climbing onto a ledge, she soon passed me down a tiny canvas of a desert landscape. The colors were murky with age, but I could clearly make out the name of the artist.

I wish I could say the painting immortalized the remote wonders of the Escalante River, Capitol Reef or Calf Creek, but it didn’t. It was a view of the Grand Canyon.

Even Fred Dellenbaugh, it seemed, joined the throngs sometimes.



Distances are vast in this corner of the Southwest, but that’s part of its allure. The closest major airport to southern Utah is Las Vegas; from there, Kanab is about a four-hour drive.


Since the 1930s, when Kanab became known as Little Hollywood, the place to stay has been Parry Lodge (89 East Center Street; 888-289-1722; It has 89 rooms (rates start at $62), including seven comfortable, retro-chic suites with kitchenettes. Western films that were made in the area are shown in the old barn on summer evenings; I caught Jack Nicholson’s little-known 1965 performance in “Ride in the Whirlwind.”

At the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge (888-297-2757;, which is open April through October, doubles start at $130. Although the rooms are rather charmless, the antique log main building, which has four of the 114 rooms, itself is wonderful and the location unbeatable.

Beyond Bryce, cheap motels predominate. The great exception is the Lodge at Red River Ranch (800-205-6343; near Torrey, at the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park. It is a lavishly decorated old-style Western lodge on 2,500 acres, with gorgeous views over blood-red bluffs and 15 rooms from $160.


You may have to search, but a surprising number of decent restaurants are hidden away in southern Utah. In Kanab, the Rocking V Cafe (97 West Center Street; 435-644-8001; is a bistro and art gallery where the eclectic menu includes Thai curry and garlic lemon shrimp (around $80 for two, including wine). On weekend nights, you actually need a reservation.

In Torrey, the garden tables at the Cafe Diablo (599 West Main Street; 435-425-3070; provide a pleasant setting for the upscale Southwestern cuisine (about $80 for two, with drinks).

Even the one-horse town of Escalante has an improbably excellent, if very casual, dining option: the cafe inside Escalante Outfitters (310 West Main Street; 435-826-4266; has good pizza ($12.50 to $20), salads and (believe it or not) cappuccinos, plus cold beer on tap. The company offers guided fly-fishing trips and rents mountain bikes ($35 a day).


Just north of Kanab in Mount Carmel, the Maynard Dixon Home and Studio was the summer residence of the painter (Mile Marker 84, Highway 89; (435) 648-2653; Built in 1938, it is a beautiful, shady residence that still includes the darkroom used by Ansel Adams when he was a houseguest. Self-guided tours cost $10; a formal tour is $20.

For a relatively easy taste of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, drive the unpaved Hole-in-the-Rock Road to the Devil’s Garden, where eerie rock formations sculptured by the wind protrude from the desert. The latest hiking conditions in Dry Fork Coyote Gulch can be found at the Escalante Visitor Center (435-826-5499; Even if you don’t stay at Calf Creek campground, take the lovely creekside hike to the lower waterfall (a brochure is available for self-guided walks; five and a half miles round trip, three to four hours). The campground at Calf Creek Recreation Center operates on a first-come-first-served basis; campers leave $5 in a box for the caretaker.

In Capitol Reef National Park (435-425-3791;; entry, $5 a vehicle), take the hourlong Scenic Drive to Capitol Gorge and hike in to the narrow canyon; the graffiti of Mormon pioneers from the 1880s can still be seen scrawled on the walls. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid chose to hide out around these wild, inhospitable corners of Utah, and after a few days in the area you can understand why.

Original here

11 mind-altering vacations

Image: Ayahuasca ceremony
Jaime Razuri / AFP - Getty Images File

Barbara Cleveland


It seems like no one is going to let us forget how bad the economy has gotten — not Wall Street, not our daily newspaper (if it still exists), not our unemployed brother, who's still sleeping on our couch. Sure, you can escape the stress by taking a vacation, but for some people, the average sun-and–piña colada getaway won't do the trick. That's why many travelers are opting for the strong stuff: a vacation involving mind-altering substances. Indeed, the world offers plenty of trippy tutorials on the meaning of this topsy-turvy life, whether it's a cultural immersion where the ceremony is as important as the high — like drinking kava with a local tribe in Fiji — or a beach party in the Caribbean fueled by hallucinogenic tea.

Of course, there's a big difference between freeing your mind legally while on vacation and doing something that'll land you in a Burmese prison. We've stuck to substances that are currently decriminalized or largely tolerated in their destinations. But laws can vary over time and within countries, so check before you, um, pack your pipe (and bring your lawyer's cell number). It goes without saying, but always use caution: Talk to your doctor, only purchase from legitimate sources, always bring a friend, and register with your local consulate on arrival. It's one thing to tune in and turn on, it's another to completely drop out.

Original here

The Road to Area 51

After decades of denying the facility's existence, five former insiders speak out
by Annie Jacobsen

Area 51. It's the most famous military institution in the world that doesn't officially exist. If it did, it would be found about 100 miles outside Las Vegas in Nevada's high desert, tucked between an Air Force base and an abandoned nuclear testing ground. Then again, maybe not— the U.S. government refuses to say. You can't drive anywhere close to it, and until recently, the airspace overhead was restricted—all the way to outer space. Any mention of Area 51 gets redacted from official documents, even those that have been declassified for decades.

It has become the holy grail for conspiracy theorists, with UFOlogists positing that the Pentagon reverse engineers flying saucers and keeps extraterrestrial beings stored in freezers. Urban legend has it that Area 51 is connected by underground tunnels and trains to other secret facilities around the country. In 2001, Katie Couric told Today Show audiences that 7 percent of Americans doubt the moon landing happened—that it was staged in the Nevada desert. Millions of X-Files fans believe the truth may be "out there," but more likely it's concealed inside Area 51's Strangelove-esque hangars—buildings that, though confirmed by Google Earth, the government refuses to acknowledge.

The problem is the myths of Area 51 are hard to dispute if no one can speak on the record about what actually happened there. Well, now, for the first time, someone is ready to talk—in fact, five men are, and their stories rival the most outrageous of rumors. Colonel Hugh "Slip" Slater, 87, was commander of the Area 51 base in the 1960s. Edward Lovick, 90, featured in "What Plane?" in LA's March issue, spent three decades radar testing some of the world's most famous aircraft (including the U-2, the A-12 OXCART and the F-117). Kenneth Collins, 80, a CIA experimental test pilot, was given the silver star. Thornton "T.D." Barnes, 72, was an Area 51 special-projects engineer. And Harry Martin, 77, was one of the men in charge of the base's half-million-gallon monthly supply of spy-plane fuels. Here are a few of their best stories—for the record:

On May 24, 1963, Collins flew out of Area 51's restricted airspace in a top-secret spy plane code-named OXCART, built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. He was flying over Utah when the aircraft pitched, flipped and headed toward a crash. He ejected into a field of weeds.

Almost 46 years later, in late fall of 2008, sitting in a coffee shop in the San Fernando Valley, Collins remembers that day with the kind of clarity the threat of a national security breach evokes: "Three guys came driving toward me in a pickup. I saw they had the aircraft canopy in the back. They offered to take me to my plane." Until that moment, no civilian without a top-secret security clearance had ever laid eyes on the airplane Collins was flying. "I told them not to go near the aircraft. I said it had a nuclear weapon on-board." The story fit right into the Cold War backdrop of the day, as many atomic tests took place in Nevada. Spooked, the men drove Collins to the local highway patrol. The CIA disguised the accident as involving a generic Air Force plane, the F-105, which is how the event is still listed in official records.

As for the guys who picked him up, they were tracked down and told to sign national security nondisclosures. As part of Collins' own debriefing, the CIA asked the decorated pilot to take truth serum. "They wanted to see if there was anything I'd for-gotten about the events leading up to the crash." The Sodium Pento-thal experience went without a hitch—except for the reaction of his wife, Jane.

"Late Sunday, three CIA agents brought me home. One drove my car; the other two carried me inside and laid me down on the couch. I was loopy from the drugs. They handed Jane the car keys and left without saying a word." The only conclusion she could draw was that her husband had gone out and gotten drunk. "Boy, was she mad," says Collins with a chuckle.

At the time of Collins' accident, CIA pilots had been flying spy planes in and out of Area 51 for eight years, with the express mission of providing the intelligence to prevent nuclear war. Aerial reconnaissance was a major part of the CIA's preemptive efforts, while the rest of America built bomb shelters and hoped for the best.

"It wasn't always called Area 51," says Lovick, the physicist who developed stealth technology. His boss, legendary aircraft designer Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson, called the place Paradise Ranch to entice men to leave their families and "rough it" out in the Nevada desert in the name of science and the fight against the evil empire. "Test pilot Tony LeVier found the place by flying over it," says Lovick. "It was a lake bed called Groom Lake, selected for testing because it was flat and far from anything. It was kept secret because the CIA tested U-2s there."

When Frances Gary Powers was shot down over Sverdlovsk, Russia, in 1960, the U-2 program lost its cover. But the CIA already had Lovick and some 200 scientists, engineers and pilots working at Area 51 on the A-12 OXCART, which would outfox Soviet radar using height, stealth and speed.

Col. Slater was in the outfit of six pilots who flew OXCART missions during the Vietnam War. Over a Cuban meat and cheese sandwich at the Bahama Breeze restaurant off the Las Vegas Strip, he says, "I was recruited for the Area after working with the CIA's classified Black Cat Squadron, which flew U-2 missions over denied territory in Mainland China. After that, I was told, 'You should come out to Nevada and work on something interesting we're doing out there.' "

Even though Slater considers himself a fighter pilot at heart—he flew 84 missions in World War II—the opportunity to work at Area 51 was impossible to pass up. "When I learned about this Mach-3 aircraft called OXCART, it was completely intriguing to me—this idea of flying three times the speed of sound! No one knew a thing about the program. I asked my wife, Barbara, if she wanted to move to Las Vegas, and she said yes. And I said, 'You won't see me but on the weekends,' and she said, 'That's fine!' " At this recollection, Slater laughs heartily. Barbara, dining with us, laughs as well. The two, married for 63 years, are rarely apart today.

"We couldn't have told you any of this a year ago," Slater says. "Now we can't tell it to you fast enough." That is because in 2007, the CIA began declassifying the 50-year-old OXCART program. Today, there's a scramble for eyewitnesses to fill in the information gaps. Only a few of the original players are left. Two more of them join me and the Slaters for lunch: Barnes, formerly an Area 51 special-projects engineer, with his wife, Doris; and Martin, one of those overseeing the OXCART's specially mixed jet fuel (regular fuel explodes at extreme height, temperature and speed), with his wife, Mary. Because the men were sworn to secrecy for so many decades, their wives still get a kick out of hearing the secret tales.

Barnes was married at 17 (Doris was 16). To support his wife, he became an electronics wizard, buying broken television sets, fixing them up and reselling them for five times the original price. He went from living in bitter poverty on a Texas Panhandle ranch with no electricity to buying his new bride a dream home before he was old enough to vote. As a soldier in the Korean War, Barnes demonstrated an uncanny aptitude for radar and Nike missile systems, which made him a prime target for recruitment by the CIA—which indeed happened when he was 22. By 30, he was handling nuclear secrets.

"The agency located each guy at the top of a certain field and put us together for the programs at Area 51," says Barnes. As a security precaution, he couldn't reveal his birth name—he went by the moniker Thunder. Coworkers traveled in separate cars, helicopters and airplanes. Barnes and his group kept to themselves, even in the mess hall. "Our special-projects group was the most classified team since the Manhattan Project," he says.

Harry Martin's specialty was fuel. Handpicked by the CIA from the Air Force, he underwent rigorous psychological and physical tests to see if he was up for the job. When he passed, the CIA moved his family to Nevada. Because OXCART had to refuel frequently, the CIA kept supplies at secret facilities around the globe. Martin often traveled to these bases for quality-control checks. He tells of preparing for a top-secret mission from Area 51 to Thule, Greenland. "My wife took one look at me in these arctic boots and this big hooded coat, and she knew not to ask where I was going."

So, what of those urban legends—the UFOs studied in secret, the underground tunnels connecting clandestine facilities? For decades, the men at Area 51 thought they'd take their secrets to the grave. At the height of the Cold War, they cultivated anonymity while pursuing some of the country's most covert projects. Conspiracy theories were left to popular imagination. But in talking with Collins, Lovick, Slater, Barnes and Martin, it is clear that much of the folklore was spun from threads of fact.

As for the myths of reverse engineering of flying saucers, Barnes offers some insight: "We did reverse engineer a lot of foreign technology, including the Soviet MiG fighter jet out at the Area"—even though the MiG wasn't shaped like a flying saucer. As for the underground-tunnel talk, that, too, was born of truth. Barnes worked on a nuclear-rocket program called Project NERVA, inside underground chambers at Jackass Flats, in Area 51's backyard. "Three test-cell facilities were connected by railroad, but everything else was underground," he says.

And the quintessential Area 51 conspiracy—that the Pentagon keeps captured alien spacecraft there, which they fly around in restricted airspace? Turns out that one's pretty easy to debunk. The shape of OXCART was unprece-dented, with its wide, disk-like fuselage designed to carry vast quantities of fuel. Commercial pilots cruising over Nevada at dusk would look up and see the bottom of OXCART whiz by at 2,000-plus mph. The aircraft's tita-nium body, moving as fast as a bullet, would reflect the sun's rays in a way that could make anyone think, UFO.

In all, 2,850 OXCART test flights were flown out of Area 51 while Slater was in charge. "That's a lot of UFO sightings!" Slater adds. Commercial pilots would report them to the FAA, and "when they'd land in California, they'd be met by FBI agents who'd make them sign nondisclosure forms." But not everyone kept quiet, hence the birth of Area 51's UFO lore. The sightings incited uproar in Nevada and the surrounding areas and forced the Air Force to open Project BLUE BOOK to log each claim.

Since only a few Air Force officials were cleared for OXCART (even though it was a joint CIA/USAF project), many UFO sightings raised internal military alarms. Some generals believed the Russians might be sending stealth craft over American skies to incite paranoia and create widespread panic of alien invasion. Today, BLUE BOOK findings are housed in 37 cubic feet of case files at the National Archives—74,000 pages of reports. A keyword search brings up no mention of the top-secret OXCART or Area 51.

Project BLUE BOOK was shut down in 1969—more than a year after OXCART was retired. But what continues at America's most clandestine military facility could take another 40 years to disclose.

ANNIE JACOBSEN is an investigative reporter who sat for more than 500 interviews after she broke the story on terrorists probing commercial airliners. When she isn’t digging into intelligence issues for the likes of the National Review, she’s snapping together Legos with her two boys.

Original here

The dark side of Dubai

Construction workers in their distinctive blue overalls building the upper floors a new Dubai tower, with the distinctive Burj al-Arab hotel in the background


Construction workers in their distinctive blue overalls building the upper floors a new Dubai tower, with the distinctive Burj al-Arab hotel in the background

    Another sign of the times

    By Owen Morris in Booze

    Flickr: Micha Monkey
    Though we're not big Anheuser-Busch drinkers, it still stung when InBev bought the St. Louis company -- just as it stings again to learn that Anheuser-Busch no longer has the best-selling beer in the world.

    After more than five years in the top spot, Bud Light lost the number-one spot to the Chinese beer Snow. It was a long time coming, and it might have actually lost the top spot in 2007. But it was confirmed recently when Snow reported its yearly results.

    Snow is a pale lager that is by all accounts pretty similar to Bud Light in flavor or lack thereof. On the snobby Beer Advocate site, Bud Light is ranked a D- in taste. Snow, which looks like it comes in a rejected Surge can, has an F rating. Commentators labeled it "bland," "watery," "soap" and "smells faintly of steamed broccoli and cauliflower."

    It's a small consolation to know that most Chinese have the same bad taste in beers as Americans. But the fact that Snow was even in a position to take the number-one spot is disappointing.
    Just three years ago, the four best-selling beers in the world were all American brewed -- Bud, Bud Light, Millers and Coors. Now only Bud and Bud Light are in the top five.

    A pessimists could say America is falling behind but I say au contraire, we're just saving our domination for other things.

    For instance, McDonald's -- which is truly American owned -- is the number-one restaurant in the world by a large margin. Yum! in Louisville holds the next two spots with KFC and Pizza Hut. Snickers and Hersheys are the two best-selling candy bars in the world.

    Snow may be number one for now but when it comes to influencing food and beverage culture -- for better or worse -- we're still number one.

    Original here

    U.S. Breweries per Capita Map

    Beer lovers who are not interested in sharing their beloved beverages may want to look into moving a bit closer to the source to secure the frosty resources. We have already outlined the top 50 craft brewers in the nation, so now we take a closer look at which states have the largest concentration of breweries relative to their population, a valuable resource if you are looking for a healthy variety of different brews, without much competition.

    Original here

    25 things vanishing in America, part 2: Maple syrup

    Sarah Gilbert

    My family eats a huge amount of maple syrup, and lately, I've had to carefully budget our purchases. I have a whopping $50 per month set aside for sweeteners, and between the disappearance of bees and the rising prices of maple syrup, it doesn't go as far as you'd think.

    Lately, maple syrup prices have skyrocketed. Last year was a terrible year for maple syrup, but what happened in 2007 was the real killer: Canadian reserves were exhausted (did you know there were maple syrup reserves? There are!) and prices went up 30%. So last year, when the season turned out terrible, prices went up steeply, 70% for some grades. Now maple syrup watchers (like me) are nervously wondering whether the 2009 season will make up for past seasons; and whether prices will, finally, go down.

    Due to the overwhelming tightening of supply and the increase in prices, Cracker Barrel went to 55% maple syrup and 45% cane syrup in its "100% Pure Natural Syrup" at its Old Country Store restaurants; a move the company insisted was not at all motivated by cost, but by supply (hmmm, really? nothing to do with cost?).

    As restaurants wavered in the face of prices nearing $100 per gallon, many quietly took the stuff off the menu.

    Will maple syrup vanish from America? Perhaps the prices have driven the delicious natural syrup off many families' shelves, and diluted the offerings at Cracker Barrel restaurants, but the state of the maple market is actually a great thing for American supplies, which have been steadily rising in the past decade or so and will likely multiply in the coming few years as Vermont sugarbushes step up to fill in the holes left by Canadian supplies. On March 9, New York Senator Charles E. Schumer, and New York Representative John McHugh, introduced a bill to help small producers nationwide get access to trees on private land and to create centralized storage and bottling plants. If the bill works as they hope, sales will quadruple from $65 million to $260 million.

    I, for one, will be buying. Will you?

    Original here

    Bacon sandwich really does cure a hangover

    Bacon sandwich really does cure a hangover
    The reaction between amino acids in the bacon and reducing sugars in the fat is what provides the bacon sandwich with its appeal Photo: GETTY

    Researchers claim food also speeds up the metabolism helping the body get rid of the booze more quickly.

    Elin Roberts, of Newcastle University's Centre for Life said: "Food doesn't soak up the alcohol but it does increase your metabolism helping you deal with the after-effects of over indulgence. So food will often help you feel better.

    "Bread is high in carbohydrates and bacon is full of protein, which breaks down into amino acids. Your body needs these amino acids, so eating them will make you feel good."

    Ms Roberts told The Mirror: "Bingeing on alcohol depletes neurotransmitters too, but bacon contains a high level of aminos which tops these up, giving you a clearer head."

    Researchers also found a complex chemical interaction in the cooking of bacon produces the winning combination of taste and smell which is almost irresistible.

    The reaction between amino acids in the bacon and reducing sugars in the fat is what provides the sandwich with its appeal.

    Ms Roberts said: "The smell of sizzling bacon in a pan is enough to tempt even the staunchest of vegetarians. There's something deeper going on inside. It's not just the idea of a tasty snack. There is some complex chemistry going on.

    "Meat is made of mostly protein and water. Inside the protein, it's made up of building blocks we call amino acids. But also, you need some fat. Anyone who's been on a diet knows if you take all the fat from the meat, it just doesn't taste the same. We need some of the fat to give it the flavour."

    She explained that the reaction released hundreds of smells and flavours but it is the smell which reels in the eater. "Smell and taste are really closely linked," she said. "If we couldn't smell then taste wouldn't be the same."

    Original here

    The 19 worst drive-thru foods in America


    Time and money are two things Americans can’t afford to waste. So it’s not surprising (though slightly disappointing) that the drive-thru is considered one of the great inventions of all time. There’s even a study to prove it. In 2005 and 2006, researchers asked 600 adults and teens why they eat so much fast food. Three of the top four responses were it’s quick, easy, and affordable. Taste came in third, with only 69 percent of respondents listing flavor as a factor in their fast-food love.

    Drive-thru foods may be convenient and easy on the wallet, but they’re loaded with unhealthy fats, added sugars, carbohydrates, and sodium. Translation: They’re no bargain when it comes to your health. But jam-packed schedules and a dismal economy make the occasional drive-thru meal a part of life. That’s why Eat This, Not That! studied the open-air menu boards and compiled a list of the worst items out there, plus better alternatives. Avoid these dietary land mines and save more than a few minutes and a couple bucks—how does up to 20 pounds in a year sound?

    Original here

    Is a high IQ a burden as much as a blessing?

    By Sam Knight

    Marilyn vos Savant with husband Robert Jarvik outside New York’s Metropolitan Club
    Marilyn vos Savant with husband Robert Jarvik outside New York’s Metropolitan Club
    The Metropolitan Club, on Fifth Avenue at 60th street, is a palazzo in the mighty Manhattan style. Damn the expense. That’s what J.P. Morgan is supposed to have said when he commissioned Stanford White, the city’s most flamboyant architect, to build him a private gentleman’s club in 1894. Inside, on a Monday evening in late January, only a few members drifted over the red, monogrammed carpets, but it was still early, only a little after seven. This, however, is when Marilyn vos Savant likes to show up.

    Savant, who has the world’s highest recorded IQ, is fond of dancing. She took it up seriously a few years ago with her husband, Robert Jarvik, the inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart, and they get to the club about once a month. If they arrive early enough, they can have the dance floor to themselves. And so it proved that Monday. The room was largely empty, the band were playing “Anything Goes” and once a happy, though quivering, old man was led from the floor by his partner, Savant and Jarvik could foxtrot wherever they pleased. A slim, prosperous couple in their sixties, they moved easily: she with a simple precision, he with the odd heel-tap, a bit of dash. After a time, though, as the floor filled up and became a carousel of perfectly tailored, carefully moving couples, they came back to their table. “It’s a social scene,” said Savant, who is 62, with a smile. “But it’s not our social scene. Let me just say that.” A few minutes later, when a serious-looking man happened to make a goofy swish right in front of them, Savant and Jarvik caught each other’s eye and couldn’t help laughing. Not long afterwards, they took a taxi home, to their midtown penthouse. “We usually dance more, a lot more,” said Savant as they are leaving. It is only 8.30pm. “And then we go back to the office.”

    Savant – the surname is real, it was her mother’s maiden name – has had a unique claim to fame since the mid-1980s. It was then, almost 30 years after she took a test as a schoolgirl in downtown St Louis, Missouri, that her IQ came to light. In 1985, Guinness World Records accepted that she had answered every question correctly on an adult Stanford-Binet IQ test at the age of just 10, a result that gave her a corresponding mental age of 22 years and 11 months, and an unearthly IQ of 228.

    The resulting publicity changed Savant’s life. She appeared on television and in the press, including on the cover of an in-flight magazine that Jarvik chanced to pick up. He decided to track her down and ask her out. It also led to the role for which she remains best known in America, writing a question-and-answer column, “Ask Marilyn”, for Parade, a Sunday magazine syndicated to more than 400 regional newspapers. For the past 22 years, Savant has tended their ceaseless queries – “How happy are larks, really?” “My wife blow-dries her hair every day. Can the noise damage her hearing?” – and in the process achieved a status that is Delphic yet tabloid. To her fans and other members of the world of high IQ, Savant is a prodigious, unusual talent who delights in solving problems. To her detractors, she is either trivial, someone who has squandered her gift, or proof, if they needed it, that IQ scores don’t add up to anything. In whatever form, she lodges in people’s minds. As evidence of her imprint on the national consciousness, Savant featured in an episode of The Simpsons in 1999. She was a member of the Springfield Mensa society, along with Geena Davis, the Hollywood actress and one-time star of Earth Girls are Easy.

    In conversation, Savant steers clear of fancy remarks. She is overtly normal. “People expect me to be a walking encyclopaedia or a human calculator,” she says, or to “have very unusual, very esoteric, very arcane gifts and I’m really not that way at all.” Instead, she talks with the practised clarity of her columns, the pedantry of someone wary of misinterpretation. At one point, for example, Savant was describing a house where she lived in St Louis. “You could actually see stars,” she said, “unlike here in New York, where you can only see Venus,” then she halted. “I’m sorry, Venus is not a star.” When Savant, who is the author of several plays and half-a-dozen self-help books, does makes a cultural reference, she is careful not to sound too snooty. She prefers Proust to Joyce, she told me, although, she concedes, “Joyce does some nice bits in Ulysses.”

    Marilyn vos Savant in her office
    Marilyn vos Savant in her office
    This blandness masks the rarity of her brain. Because whatever else Savant is, she is not a fraud. Her IQ has been tested and tested and tested again. When I asked her to describe how her mind approaches a problem, she said: “My first thought, maybe not thought, it’s almost like a feeling, is overview … It’s like, almost, a wartime decision. I keep thinking about all of the fronts, what’s supplying what, where are the most important points … ” Jarvik, her husband for the past 21 years, says Savant’s gift is to be able to approach questions dispassionately, without our usual fears of or hopes for a particular answer. Walter Anderson, the chief executive of Parade, who has been friends with Savant since he hired her in 1986, believes she is a genius and, as with other geniuses, her ability is inexplicable to him. “Marilyn just does it,” he said. “Her answer is so quick. If light or electricity travels at 186,000 miles per second, do you realise how quick those synapses are? She knows the answer to your question. She knows the answer before you’ve finished the question.”

    All of which only makes people wonder why Savant has found no higher purpose. In 1995, the issue became so bothersome to Herb Weiner, a software engineer in Portland, Oregon, that he set up a website called Marilyn is Wrong! Weiner says that he aims to redress errors in her column and ensure that Savant’s daunting IQ does not mean that she goes unquestioned. But what really seems to nag him is that she writes the column at all. “Look at Barack Obama, look at how he is applying his intelligence,” he told me. “It just sort of seems strange to me that instead of dealing with more complex problems, a lot of what she does is just answer riddles or simple research things, things that anybody could go to a library and look up the answer to.”

    Weiner’s complaint is oddly deferential. As his website notes: “Marilyn is more intelligent than I am, as measured by standard intelligence tests.” But for many people, the story of Savant and “Ask Marilyn” are just two more pieces of evidence in a larger, decades-long argument about the accuracy and objectivity of intelligence testing. Even Guinness has succumbed. In 1990, two years after inducting Savant into its Hall of Fame, the publisher, in its parlance, “rested” its high IQ category altogether, saying it was no longer satisfied that intelligence tests were either uniform or reliable enough to produce a single record holder. Depending on how you look at it, Savant will either never be beaten, or was not worth beating in the first place.

    . . .

    Humans have been measuring each other’s intelligence for a long time. In China during the Xi Zhou dynasty (1046 to 771BC), candidates for official positions were formally tested on a range of criteria including the “six skills”: arithmetic, archery, horsemanship, music, writing and the performance of rituals and ceremonies. The notion of a universal, objective scale of intelligence, however, did not take shape until the 19th century and the arrival of Darwinism. If Charles Darwin is the father of modern biology, then the father of modern intelligence testing is his cousin, Francis Galton – statistician, polymath and founder of eugenics. In 1884, he set up an “anthropometric laboratory” at the International Health Exhibition in London, and measured, among other things, the reaction times, eyesight, colour sensitivity and steadiness of hand of more than 9,000 men and women as he looked for links between their physical and mental characteristics.

    Searching for genius, Galton failed to develop a working intelligence test. That was left to a French psychologist, Alfred Binet, and his student, Victor Henri. Binet was commissioned to study the large numbers of poor children in the city’s asylums and to find out whether they were mentally incapacitated or simply untaught. His resulting 1904 test of 30 indicators – from the eye being able to follow a lit match, to memory and vocabulary questions – provided the basis of modern intelligence testing. In 1916, Lewis Terman, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, revised and expanded the test, creating the Stanford-Binet IQ test, which is still used today. Although more moderate than many of his contemporaries, Terman adhered to the social Darwinism of his time – in 1930, 24 US states had sterilisation laws – and he had hopes for the social potential of his work. “This,” he wrote in 1919, “will ultimately result in the curtailing of the reproduction of feeble-mindedness.”

    Intelligence testing has proved contentious ever since. In the US, where more than nine million men underwent various forms of IQ and ability tests during the second world war, the enthusiasm for testing has been matched only by the ferocity of arguments over what exactly it proves. IQ tests for children, the SAT Reasoning Test for college applicants and psycho­metric testing by companies may have been designed with the goal of identifying individual talent, but often their larger consequence has been to highlight differences already inherent in society. Variations between the sexes and ethnic groups have led to toxic arguments about bias and inequality and power: who gets to define intelligence? Who designs the tests? In its various iterations, the debate about IQ testing in the US normally returns to the persistent, albeit shrinking, lag between results for white and black populations.

    Marilyn vos Savant with husband Robert on the cover of New York magazine, 1989
    Marilyn vos Savant with husband Robert on the cover of New York magazine, 1989
    The last time the debate flowered in full was in 1994, on the publication of The Bell Curve by the psychologist Richard Herrnstein and the conservative political scientist, Charles Murray. They argued that intelligence test scores were both a good indicator of social success and strongly determined by our genes. The implication, that an unequal society was inevitable and fair, and that a black, inner city “cognitive underclass” was having too many children, made it seem as though eugenics had never gone away. “Mr Murray can protest all he wants,” wrote Bob Herbert, a columnist for The New York Times, “his book is just a genteel way of calling somebody a nigger.”

    Underlying the heated politics – making the arguments even harder to resolve – is an incomplete science. After The Bell Curve controversy, the American Psychological Association convened a task force, which concluded that children’s IQ scores could predict about 25 per cent of the variation in future academic performance. They were, in other words, on the cusp of being statistically reliable, better than nothing.

    . . .

    There is an almighty gap between what IQ tests can measure and what we want to them to show. “If you tell anyone their IQ at any age they will remember it for the rest of their life,” says Professor John Rust, the director of the Psychometrics Centre at the University of Cambridge. “It’s like an astrological chart.” Rust reminded me of the contrast between the quasi-spiritual idea of intelligence rooted in western language and culture – the notion of a single, overarching quality comparable to, say, a saint’s halo – and what we can learn from our response to a series of logical problems. Yet in the absence of anything better than IQ tests, whose questions still underpin many modern “ability” tests, people continue to see something in these IQ scores that, while not meaningless, do not hold “the answer”.

    The fault, in the end, lies on both sides: in us, the credulous patients, who see too much in our results, and the doctors, who have also been furiously theorising and extrapolating. “Tests of IQ have never simply been about our ability to solve problems,” said Rust. “There has always been the idea that people with high IQs are actually more advanced, more evolved, closer to the human destiny, if you believe that sort of thing, closer to God. But in fact all you have really got is answers to questions.”

    The world of high IQ societies certainly does not suggest the existence of a higher evolutionary plane. Although the best known, Mensa, was set up in the UK in 1946 with utopian goals – it was envisioned by its founder, Roland Berrill, as a panel of brilliant minds that would improve society – such groups are often a refuge for people who have trouble fitting in elsewhere. “High cognitive ability is very often a mixed blessing,” Patrick O’Shea, the president of one such society, the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry (ISPE), told me. Too wide a deviation from the mean IQ of 100 brings with it an inherent isolation. “If you have an IQ of 160 or higher,” O’Shea explained, “you’re probably able to connect well with less than 1 per cent of the population.” Among the 600 or so members of the ISPE, whose IQs are all around 150 or higher, O’Shea described a “common experience of being socially marginalised” and the challenge of finding suitable outlets for their gifts. “It’s good to be smart, it’s good to get ahead, but past a certain threshold, you can’t be trusted: you’re a nerd, you’re a geek,” he said. “You have somehow a tremendous social deficit.”

    . . .

    Ron Hoeflin
    Ron Hoeflin, who says that his IQ of 190 has given him the confidence and recognition that he was denied by mainstream education, in which he struggled
    In between conversations with Marilyn vos Savant, I also spent time in New York with a man called Ron Hoeflin. Hoeflin is two years older than Savant, also from St Louis, and also has a remarkable IQ score – 190 – yet has frustratingly little to show for it. He lives only a few blocks from Savant’s penthouse, above a café/Laundromat, and describes himself as self-employed. I met Hoeflin in the local Wendy’s, a hamburger place where he spends every afternoon working on the final volume of a self-published philosophical treatise called The Encyclo­paedia of Categories: A Theory of Categories and Unifying Paradigm for Philosophy With Over 1,000 Examples.

    We slowly went back to Hoeflin’s apartment – he is almost blind due to repeatedly detached retinas – and I asked him what his IQ and intelligence testing had done for him. Hoeflin, who devised a series of well-respected tests in the 1980s, said that it has provided him with a degree of confidence and recognition that he had been denied by mainstream education, in which he struggled. Hoeflin believes the objectivity of IQ tests makes them more reliable than the subjective evaluations of teachers and professors. “I don’t want to have some ruthless creep mess me up,” he said.

    A fan of psychometric testing in general, Hoeflin also showed me the results of a personality test he once took. Lines of Xs march across the page, showing the extent of his various personality traits, from the “vigilant” to the “leisurely”. In one column, for the “dramatic”, there were no Xs at all. “Zero,” said Hoeflin, evenly. “This is why I don’t write novels because on the dramatic level I’m zero.” When I objected, saying that surely our personalities are too complex, too cosmic, to be captured in a questionnaire, Hoeflin suggested politely that maybe I was incurious, or afraid, or both. “Why do you think a personality can’t be measured?” He asked me. “Just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and figure it out. It’s patterns. Even our personalities are just patterns, right? Like waves on the ocean. You can do a study in hydrodynamics and figure out how waves rise and collapse. It’s the same for human beings.” In an e-mail a few days later, Hoeflin explained his interest in psychometrics another way: “Being this shy makes one wonder what is going on.”

    Knowing all this makes high IQs and the story of Marilyn vos Savant seem rather different. Has her IQ been a burden as much as a blessing? According to John Rust, at Cambridge, to produce an extraordinary IQ score a mind must have two unusual qualities. The first is “mechanical facility” – useful but sometimes harmful in extreme cases, hence the preponderance of people with Asperger’s syndrome who have high IQs. And you must also excel at a wide variety of tasks. Intelligence tests measure a range of mental abilities, whereas most people naturally, and happily, concentrate on just a few. Abnormally high IQ scores, by their nature, often speak of a brain too general to be of much use. “Effectively,” said Rust, “you are mastering far too many things.”

    Broadness, though, is what Savant craves. “Reading all about these subjects,” she says of her work, “I am becoming amazingly informed to a superficial extent.” One afternoon we met in her office, 50 floors up among the foggy, snowbound towers of Manhattan, and she showed me her desk. Three computer screens and an old word processor looked out, north-west, over a thousand roofs towards the Hudson River. It is from this vantage point that she answers the 200 or 300 e-mails a day that come in for her column in Parade magazine: questions on every subject, from the personal to the algebraic, that are bothering those down below. “I’m hearing from everyone, I told you, this vast range,” she said. “And I really enjoy that view. It’s hard to express. It’s like being at a scenic outlook point. I feel like I am gaining so much insight about people, and there is a particular joy in that.”

    Marilyn vos Savant in 1950 with her parents Joseph and Marina and brothers (from left) Bob and Joe
    Marilyn vos Savant in 1950 with her parents Joseph and Marina and brothers (from left) Bob and Joe
    It has taken her a long time to get there. Savant was born Marilyn Mach in south central St Louis in 1946. Her parents, Joseph Mach and Marina vos Savant, were immigrants, German and Italian respectively, and ran a bar and grill in a blue-collar part of town. Savant describes her childhood, the first half of her life in fact, at a kind of ironic distance. She laughed when she told me about how her parents tried to raise her and her two older brothers as Americans. “All I heard around the house was this fractured, lame, ungrammatical English for I don’t know how long. It was really very funny. You know, this was their best effort.” And she gently warned me off reading too much into her past. “It’s funny how these background things mean so much to people,” said Savant. “It feels strange, a bit, to me because it seems like the dark ages or another time, or another persona, which I guess I was.”

    In school she was quickly identified as gifted, getting maximum scores on IQ tests at the ages of seven, eight and nine. And when Savant got full marks on the adult Stanford-Binet at the age of 10, a psychologist from the local school board said he had never seen anything like it. Savant, however, recalls no surprise. “That didn’t seem like news,” she said. “It just seemed perfectly normal.” Her principal, however, was sufficiently impressed to pull Savant out of several classes and put her to work in his office, so beginning an odd phase in her life in which she was one of the only people in the school with access to the other pupils’ IQ scores. Her hobby became matching her fellow students to their results. “I would make my best guess after talking to them for a while and then I would go and see how accurate my guess was,” she recalled. “I got to be very good at it.”

    Marilyn vos Savant with with her mother in 1953
    Marilyn vos Savant with with her mother in 1953
    By the age of 16, however, Savant’s precocious schoolgirl was no more. She married, as her mother had done at her age, and was drawn into the family business, which by this time was a chain of dry cleaners. “It was a long time. It was a long time,” she said when I asked her when she realised that this life was not for her. “You have to understand the level of control. I was not aware of things outside.” Apart from a few audited classes at the city’s Washington University, Savant’s formal education ended in her late teens when she had her two children. She divorced in her twenties and married again, all the while working with her brothers and father to expand the business to about 40 dry cleaners and a firm that sold dry cleaning equipment. She joined Mensa, she says, to help her educate her children, but most of the time Savant was busy keeping the family accounts. “I was the trustworthy one,” she said. “I was the one that everyone could turn to for an unbiased decision.”

    It was only after her second marriage ended, when she was 35, that Savant began to think about leaving St Louis. She decided to become a playwright. She saved some money and started spending time in New York, even renting an apartment in Manhattan. When her father died, she permanently moved away.

    . . .

    Savant is elliptical about her early years in New York – the crucial period from 1983 to 1985 in which she went from being a dry cleaner to the cleverest person in the world. “It was just a confluence of things,” she says. But contemporaries, such as Ron Hoeflin, recall her as a member of the various high IQ societies in the city. “She wanted to be a writer, I know that,” he said. Savant now distances herself from the world of high IQ, but at the time she was willing to see how it could help her prospects. She says she can no longer recall how her childhood scores were submitted to Guinness, but Andrew Egendorf, a lawyer from Boston, says the idea came up over a dinner in 1983. Egendorf, who wanted to write a book about high IQ societies, says he remembers proposing a couple of book ideas to Savant, and suggesting that they send her IQ results to Guinness as a way of making her famous. “She was just another person trying to make it in New York,” he told me. “The fact that she had this credential just gave her something different and I remember thinking, ‘How can we cash in on it?’ It didn’t matter what it was. She could have been green, the only green person in the world.” Egendorf first wrote to Guinness on Savant’s behalf on July 25 1983. In 1985, the IQ record was hers, 31 points higher than the two previous holders. The next year, she was writing for Parade.

    And since then it has been questions, questions, questions. Walter Anderson, at Parade, remembers how at cocktail parties in the 1980s people would throw Savant riddles and mathematical puzzles. It was hard to persuade her not to reply. “From the time she was a little girl, she was asked questions all the time,” he explained. Not that these logical problems seem to faze Savant. Rather, they have been the scene of her greatest triumphs [ The “Monty Hall dilemma” ], and Anderson still gets excited, after all these years, about what conundrum Savant will answer next. He is convinced, for instance, that she understands the financial crisis in ways that most of us do not. “You know for the last quarter of a century, people have written stone bullshit about Marilyn,” he said at the end of our interview. “Writers want to come and show off how clever they are. But the real question is: what should we be asking her? We should take her seriously.”

    There is only one question that seems the wrong thing to ask Savant, and that is what else she is supposed to have done with her life, with her glimmering brain. To ask it is to miss the point. I told her when we met that I had always imagined intelligence to be nothing more than a tool. On that foggy afternoon, before we said goodbye, she wanted to correct me. “I suppose it could be and it should be,” she said. “But it also seems to be an attribute or a quality or an aspect of one’s humanity that one need not use to get something that you want … It can just simply be part of you. And I think that’s fine too.”

    Sam Knight is a regular contributor to FT Weekend Magazine.

    Do you have a question for the world’s cleverest person? E-mail your questions to – the pick of them will be put to Marilyn vos Savant and featured with her answers in a future issue.


    The “Monty Hall dilemma”

    Marilyn vos Savant’s column gained national notoriety in the early 1990s, thanks to her response to the “Monty Hall dilemma”: the make-or-break decision facing contestants on the game show Let’s Make a Deal that was then hosted by Hall. The question was posed by Craig Whitaker, of Columbia, Marinaland, on September 9 1990. “Dear Marilyn,” wrote Whitaker. “Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car, behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say #1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say #3, which has a goat. He says to you: ‘Do you want to pick door #2?’ Is it to your advantage to switch your choice of doors?”

    Savant’s answer, that it was better to switch doors, provoked an extraordinary response: thousands of letters of complaint, many of them from science teachers and academics. “There is enough mathematical illiteracy in this country, and we don’t need the world’s highest IQ propagating more. Shame!” wrote one reader from the University of Florida. “You are the goat!” said another. “You made a mistake, but look at the positive side,” wrote Everett Harman, of the US Army Research Institute. “If all those PhDs were wrong, the country would be in some very serious trouble.”

    But Savant had not made a mistake. In the end it took her four columns, hundreds of newspaper stories and a challenge to children to test the options in classroom experiments, to convince her readers that she was right. “Oh, that was so much fun. I just enjoyed these nasty letters I got,” she said. “The audacity of people! I just loved them.”

    The key to the solution lies in the role of the host, who will always pick a door which does not have a prize behind it. Statistics from the game show, in which those who switched won about twice as often as those who did not, bear out Savant’s explanation from her third column: “When you first choose door #1 from three, there’s a 1/3 chance that the prize is behind that one and a 2/3 chance that it’s behind one of the others. But then the host steps in and gives you a clue. If the prize is behind #2, the host shows you #3, and if the prize is behind #3, the host shows you #2. So when you switch, you win if the prize is behind #2 or #3. You win either way! But if you don’t switch, you win only if the prize is behind door #1.”

    Dealing With a Hellish Boss

    by Malcolm O. Munro

    The Screamer
    He flies off the handle at the slightest provocation. Why? Oprah or Dr. Phil would tell you his anger is an emotional response to outward stimuli — a fancy way of saying he gets ticked off when your actions fail to meet his expectations. Your only hope is to get out of the way.

    Don't: Attempt to calm the screamer down, rationalize with him, or — as much as you might want to — take a swing.

    Do: Keep your cool and wait for the right moment to revisit the issue when he's feeling more mellow.

    The Passive-Aggressive
    The scariest thing about this devil of a boss is his unpredictability. He can shift moods right before your eyes. He's also the master of hitting you with rage and insults — and smiling while he does it.

    Don't: Turn your back on him. You must always be wary so you're not taken in by his sometimes charming behavior.

    Do: Respond with caution to everything he says and does. Observe his behavior so you can figure out the kinds of things that seem to trigger him or set him off.

    The Arrogant Jackass
    This boss exhibits a sense of entitlement, demeans anyone in a position beneath him, and spews an incessant string of comments about how great he is. It's like working for the biggest prick you know.

    Don't: Try to one-up him — this is his game and he knows how to play it better. Don't bother competing with him either — you'll never win.

    Do: Ignore him. An SOB thrives on an audience and the attention it brings. Therefore, silence is the kryptonite you need to completely deflate him (and make your life tolerable).

    Malcolm O. Munro is a career coach and business professor at Strayer University in Virginia.

    Original here

    What porn is really for

    After years of watching late-night porn in anonymous hotel rooms - for research - its purpose is clear, says Clive James. To keep one's mind off sex while one's partner is absent.

    Ken and Barbie pretend to make love
    Plastic boobs? Check. No body hair? Check? You're hired

    Very few voices have dared to speak up in defence of the Home Secretary's husband, but let mine be one of them.

    The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, is in an invidious position. Before I start defending her husband, Richard Timney, let me be blunt about just how invidious that position is. It always looked unduly cosy that the Home Secretary should claim £40,000 a year of public funds to pay him to run her constituency office.

    Though it is common practice for parliamentarians to employ their spouses, the Home Secretary's employment of her husband was bound to draw scrutiny to her broad interpretation of what constitutes a legitimate expense.

    A bedroom counted as a primary home. It looked even more unduly cosy when her husband started claiming his expenses, including the purchase of a bath plug and a home entertainment system. Some might have thought, the modern world being what it is, that although the bath plug might be morally neutral if used responsibly, the same might not apply to the home entertainment system.

    And so, indeed, it proved.

    While the Home Secretary was away on official business, on the evening of 1 April 2008 at 11.18 her husband watched an adult entertainment movie, and on the evening of 6 April at 11.19 he watched another adult entertainment move. Since these movies were available only on subscription, he had to pay for them. He charged the payment to the public.

    Flushed away

    It is doubtful if the Home Secretary was entertained at all when she found out this was going to be made public at the very time in her career when she has legislation going through parliament to regulate such adult entertainment matters as businessmen putting visits to pole dancing clubs on expenses as if they'd just been to the pub.

    Clive James

    Is your partner away in Brussels making a speech? Get your mind off sex by watching a porn video

    Tough on pole dancing, tough on the causes of pole dancing - it's a New Labour policy in the grand modern tradition, which takes a moral view that includes the economics, or, if you like, an economic view that includes the morality.

    Either way, when you hold the position of Home Secretary and have been so outspoken on the topic of adult entertainment on expenses, it isn't the best moment for headlines to be telling the world that your husband has not only been watching porno movies, he has been off-loading the cost of doing so on to the tax-paying public.

    Her husband has dropped her in it. Some would say that she was already in it, because she has patently never been able to judge the effect of an expenses claim in which a principal item is a salary for her husband's efforts in running her constituency office, a salary with an expense allowance down to and including bath plugs.

    But he has dropped her further in it, as if that were possible. If she was already in it up to her lower eyelids, he has now stood on top of her head. From where her fringe was previously visible, bubbles are coming up, and it's all his fault. Is there no-one to speak for him?

    Field research

    Let me be the one, because it just so happens that I know the truth about pornographic movies.

    Elderly Japanese porn actor with ad for his latest film
    Some break the mould - like this 74-year-old Japanese porn actor

    As a professional critic of the media I have always felt it was incumbent on me, as a public duty, to keep up with developments in all the means of expression however disreputable. So for purposes of research I began checking out the adult entertainment channels in hotel rooms all over the world. If I was filming in Hawaii or Tokyo or Berlin I would switch on the adult entertainment channels late at night to see what was on offer and make notes.

    One of the first things I noted was that although there were hundreds and even thousands of pornographic movies, they all had the same few half-witted story structures. Almost without exception they were manufactured in Los Angeles, with a cast of characters that soon became recognisable, no matter where in the world you were watching.

    Indeed that was the chief comfort they offered. If you were lonely in a hotel room in Sydney or Amsterdam, there on the screen were the same old familiar few faces from the San Fernando Valley, the men with their improbably low foreheads and permanently puzzled expressions, the women with their enhanced lips and strangely rigid chests, as if wearing a tungsten basque internally.

    What's my motivation?

    For a student of bad acting, there could be no richer field. It's not as if the porno stars merely lack dramatic talent. They have the opposite of dramatic talent. Yet touchingly they're more interested in the acting challenges offered by the roles they play than the sex.

    EastEnders scene of Roy buying Viagra
    Take the blue pill...

    The man pretending to be the scientist whose job is to check the sexual sensitivity of the female astronaut just back from space keeps adjusting the collar of the white coat which proves that he is a scientist. He holds his clipboard in a scientific manner.

    Meanwhile the woman playing the astronaut delivers her line of dialogue. "I don't know, doctor. I guess something happened to me out there."

    None of them can act because none of them really has a personality: a fact which is only further emphasised when they attempt to effervesce. As a result, they are no more erotic when they disrobe than plaster casts of roughly the same size and weight.

    I hasten to add that not all of the women are low rent in their physical attributes. All the men look stupid beyond belief, but some of the women would be almost personable in the right light, which this definitely isn't. The lighting is harsh for the same reason that there is so little pubic hair in evidence. The aim is to make the whole thing look clinical.

    The real story in this matter isn't about a man watching images. It's about a man leaving a paper trail

    From the erotic angle, adult entertainment movies are made for men whose idea of the adult barely gets beyond the babyish. For anyone with a brain, there is not only no question of being aroused, there is a detectable shrivelling effect on the libido. In time, a connoisseur of the form learns to trust it as a sure-fire means of getting the mind off sex.

    Is your partner away in Brussels making a speech? Get your mind off sex by watching a porn video. Just don't watch too many of them, or you might burn out your circuits permanently. Plenty of men have done this. They watched Barely Legal Teenage Terminators once too often, and now nothing stirs - even when they eat blue pills like peanuts.

    Yes men, you can watch the stuff in perfect safety any time you want to quell that urge. But it might, on the whole, be safer not to expect the public to nod with understanding if you charge the expense to them.

    Power as aphrodisiac

    I'm quite confident that Jacqui Smith's husband was doing her a service, as it were, when he switched on the purportedly hot movies. He was doing it to cool himself down while he counted the hours until her return.

    Willie Whitelaw
    Willie Whitelaw, a past Home Secretary

    But then he made the mistake of claiming the cost as a legitimate expense. You could say that it was, in a way. If his job of running her office is legitimate, then keeping himself sane in the absence of his partner is plainly part of his duty, and the attendant costs shouldn't have to come out of his pocket, especially in view of the fact that her position as Home Secretary must infinitely multiply her effect as an object of desire. I can remember very well when I felt that way about Willie Whitelaw.

    But Mr Timney should have realised that the mass of the British public is still convinced that there is such a thing as sauciness. They are not yet living in the modern age. They are still living in a Carry On movie.

    Only a comparatively small proportion of the public have as many channels as Mr Timney had in his home entertainment centre, and have seen what a cable channel programme like Sexcetera is actually like. The presenters, when they aren't hearty young American females with breasts bigger than their behinds, are hearty young American males with grins bigger than their heads, screaming in a stage whisper about the secrets behind the silver studded, black leather quilted door.

    There are never any secrets worth bothering about behind the silver studded, black leather quilted door. There are people of repellent aspect doing ridiculous things to each other with clinical looking equipment, but there are never any secrets.

    Couple stand before The Kiss
    I'll have what she's having...

    Because there is only one secret about sex, and that is that it's a feeling, and you can't see feeling. Some of the greatest artists who ever lived did their best to register the look on a woman's face when she is in ecstasy.

    Bernini almost did it, Gustav Klimt almost did it, and if you're a man dying for lack of love you could start with them. But looking at porno movies will get you so far in the opposite direction that you might as well watch a programme about stock car racing.

    The real story in this matter, however, isn't about a man watching images. It's about a man leaving a paper trail. In that respect, it was he who hadn't caught up with the modern age.

    In a hotel, they promise you that the name of the porno movie you watched won't show up on your bill. But if somebody else is paying your bill, they can easily figure out that you watched it.

    Richard, if you had resigned yourself to paying for those two stupid movies with your own money, Jacqui wouldn't be paying now.

    Original here